Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hemlock Grove: Season 2 – review

Director: Various

First released: 2014

Contains spoilers

I liked the first season of Hemlock Grove. I felt that the way they did the monster mash was interesting. The lycanthropy had some nice twists, the idea of an upyr who didn’t know his own nature worked well and the variant of the Frankenstein Monster was fantastic.

So when season 2 was released to Netflix (the series is a Netflix original) I had much to look forward to. Unfortunately the series fell short for me this time around.

The werewolf of our tale, Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron), left Hemlock Grove and is on the road with his mother Lynda (Lili Taylor, the Addiction). They are at a Romany funeral when it is raided by the feds. Lynda is arrested for a variety of charges and taken to Hemlock Grove correctional facility, forcing Peter to return there and stay with his psychic cousin Destiny (Kaniehtiio Horn, Embrace of the Vampire & Being Human (US)). In order that he might get the money for a lawyer he grifts a couple of drug dealers into buying a "traditional gypsy drug" formula by giving them an innocuous fluid and then partially turning to make them feel that they have tripped – unfortunately it is turning on the wrong moon and that way leads to becoming a feral, murderous vargulf.

the baby
Meanwhile newly awaken upyr Roman (Bill Skarsgård) has taken over biotech firm Godfrey industries whilst his mother, Olivia (Famke Janssen), recovers – Roman bit off her tongue at the end of the last episode. He has his daughter hidden in his new house, a baby girl with unnaturally blue eyes. If Roman was a bit of a spoilt brat in the first series he acts it even more so when faced with the responsibilities of management. He also seems to have completely forgotten about the upyr ability to control minds – but more on his powers later.

Nicole Boivin as Shelley
You see one problem I have with the second season was that some of the best characters are sidelined. Shelley (Nicole Boivin) is on the run (the authorities think the giant girl is both a monster and murderer) and so after fighting the vargulf from the first series (that pops out of the grave as she wasn’t beheaded) she hides in an abandoned house for most of the series. Olivia is sidelined from being a Dynasty level bitch queen to recovering invalid. We also discover that she is becoming human – the mad doctor Johann Pryce (Joel de la Fuente) believing it is something to do with the effect of upyr venom on one of their own kind. To be fair, in the last episode Olivia is very much back.

a serial killer cult?
The main story sees Roman and Peter having to rebuild their trust whilst sharing premonition dreams of murders made to look like accidents, which are being committed by perpetrators wearing blank masks. Meanwhile a girl comes into their lives called Miranda (Madeline Brewer) who falls for them both but also starts lactating and feeding Nadia (the baby). Of course both stories become conflated and the Order of the Dragon have their fingers in the pie too. So, what about the vampirism?

Well, Roman spends a lot of his time, at first, trying to control the hunger. He pays a man to wear leeches and then collects the bloated parasites as a snack but that only satisfies so far. Then it is the genre standard trying to (and failing to) control his hunger and, to be honest, it is a little tired as a device – especially in the second season of a series – that said it does lead to a nicely gory dream sequence with a stretched mouth and as much blood as a Japanese splatterpunk film. Where it gets more interesting is when Pryce reveals that upyrism is a retrovirus and that he can potentially cure it. This does cause Roman to be less powerful than he might have been and might have answered the mind control except, of course, that didn’t explain why he didn’t have/use it earlier on.

a moment of gore
The season wasn’t awful, but as I have intimated I felt there was something missing. That something almost seemed to return at the finale (which was in episode 10, the season shedding its length by three episodes) until we get a pay-off to a storyline that just seemed so convoluted, under-expained and ridiculous that it added a dull clang to the sharp chime of the final episode. This one was struggling as a season and perhaps they should have stayed at 1. That said it had some moments within it to make it better than it might have been. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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